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The Norman Mailer Center & The Norman Mailer Writer's Colony

Our Co-Founders

Norris Church MailerAt six o’clock every day after work, Norman and I had a glass of wine in the bar in our house in Provincetown, overlooking the bay. We’d talk about our day, our work, the kids, and sometimes about the larger issues, like God and the Devil and what eternity might be like. One subject he came back to frequently was his legacy and what would happen after he was gone. He always said that if he’d had the funds, he would have started a school for writers. He loved helping young writers and was always sending manuscripts to his agent, or giving advice.

When he died, I knew I was going to have to sell the house; it was just too expensive for me to keep up alone. Then Hans Janitschek and Larry Schiller were talking about what might be done, and one of them suggested, “How about a writers’ colony?” It was as if Norman had put the idea out there.

The next morning Larry and Mike Lennon came to me. And I said, “Yes!” That’s exactly what the house should be. Larry pitched right in and made it happen. Without him, there would be no Colony. I’m sure Norman would be so happy to see what has already become his legacy, and I know he would be proud tonight. -- Norris Church Mailer

Norris Church Mailer (1949-2010) was raised a strict Freewill Baptist in Arkansas, was a divorced high school teacher with aspirations to teach art in college and the mother of a three year old son when she met Norman Mailer through a series of flukes. It can only be called fate. Her life completely changed when she moved to New York, a modeling career fell into her lap, and she became part of the "literati" scene, the literary, social swirl of the late seventies and decadent eighties. She was the sixth, and last, wife of Norman for 33 years and with him raised her two sons and seven step children, while ultimately dealing with life threatening cancer.

In the meantime, she wrote two novels, had two plays produced, wrote eight screenplays and had nine one woman shows of her paintings. Norris acted in numerous plays, television and movies, and taught art to children with cancer for two years with Very Special Arts. She wrote a memoir,
ATicket to the Circus, which begins with her Revolutionary War pioneer forbears and her life as a country girl, then tells of her becoming a character in the life of New York.

Lawrence SchillerProvincetown, 2007. It was early August, and Norman was sitting at one end of the dining room table in the chair he always sat in, reviewing some page proofs and type samples from a still-untitled book. We talked about the soon to be published work, and then he looked up at me and said, “I’m prepared to die, Larry. I won’t be alive by the end of this year.” And then he went back to editing the pages before him. I just looked at him. I didn’t know what to say. After a while, without looking up, he said, “What’s going to happen to the house?”

A rush of thoughts flooded over me: What would become of the house?

Norman and Norris had begun coming to Provincetown in 1975 and had spent the great majority of their time there since the early 1980s, when the house was purchased. It was in Ptown, where he had written great chunks of his 30 books. Norman often said that Provincetown had become for him what Key West and Cuba were for Hemingway.

Soon after our talk, Norman was hospitalized a Mount Sinai in New York City. A nurse, knowing who he was, said nervously to him, “I’d like to write, but I don’t know how.”

“Well, what are you doing this weekend?” he asked.

“Going sailing with my boyfriend.”

“So when you get home, write about your weekend,” Norman replied, “and bring it to me, and I’ll take a look at it.”

I had overheard that conversation, and the following week, when I returned to visit Norman, he was in the ICU. And there he was, pencil in hand, editing some text. The same nurse was sitting there at his side, her back to the window, listening in awe to his every word as he went line by line through the typed pages she had given him. Finally, he handed her his corrections. She just sat there reading his notes, over and over and over. And Norman, tubes and IV’s stuck all over his body, went back to reading the newspaper.
The groundwork for the Colony was being laid without anybody saying a word about it.
Four weeks later, Norman died. He was buried at the tip of Cape Cod, in the Provincetown cemetery. After the funeral, I was talking to Hans Janitschek and his wife, Friedl.

“So what will happen to the house?” Hans asked me.

“I know one thing: Norman didn’t want it to be lost to history.”

As we continued to talk, one of us—I don’t remember who—first used the words “writers’ colony.” And they stayed there in the air, hovering, as our conversation moved on to other topics.

The next morning I mentioned the idea to Norris and a few of Norman’s kids. Norris noted that Norman had helped hundreds of writers over the years, reading and commenting on manuscripts, sending many to his agents and publishers, and answering questions in letters and giving advice on a writer’s life. I asked Norris if I could give the Colony a try, and she replied that she loved the idea and would support it in every way she could. -- Lawrence Schiller

Lawrence Schiller was born in 1936 in Brooklyn, and grew up outside of San Diego, California. After attending Pepperdine College, he worked for Life Magazine, Paris Match, The Sunday Times, Time, Newsweek, Stern and the Saturday Evening Post as a photojournalist. He published his first book, LSD, in 1966. Since then he has published eleven books, including W. Eugene Smith's Minamata and Norman Mailer's Marilyn. He collaborated with Albert Goldman on Ladies and Gentleman, Lenny Bruce and again with Mailer on The Executioner's Song and Oswald's Tale.
His own books became New York Times Bestsellers which include American Tragedy, Perfect  Murder, Perfect Town, Cape May Court House, and Into the Mirror. He has directed seven motion pictures and miniseries for television which included The Executioner's Song and Peter the Great which won five Emmys.

In 2008, after the death of the writer Norman Mailer, he was named Senior Advisor to the Norman Mailer Estate and is the President and Co-Founder of the Norman Mailer Center and the Norman Mailer Writers Colony, in Provincetown, MA. Mr. Schiller was a close friend of Mailer and a collaborator on five of Mailer's works.

Mr. Schiller is a consultant to NBC news, Annie Liebovitz Studio and Mitsubishi Power Systems Americas and has written for The New Yorker, The Daily Beast and other publications.